Macklemore gets real about the importance of arts education in schools: 'As a kid, music saved me'

With budget cuts and shifting policies surrounding in-school arts education on the forefront of everyone’s mind and seemingly every politician’s political agenda, the importance and necessity of credible arts programs in schools across the country has come in to question.

For many, there isn’t even any question to be asked at all — music and arts are as a fundamental to a child’s educational development as the maths and sciences, perhaps in some cases even more fundamental as they allow for an outlet of expression and creativity that would otherwise be repressed or neglected.

This is the belief of LIFEWTR, the premium bottled water brand that’s made massive strides in funding towards arts education in schools nationwide through its #BringArtBackToSchools initiatives.

The company abides by the statement that ‘art is as essential to life as water’, and this year, they’re proving it by teaming up with singer and songwriter Macklemore in pledging to impact 10 million students across the country.

The partnership aims to make a difference through ‘beautification’ projects of deserving schools as well as by offering grants to 90 teachers nationwide who have exemplified creative excellences in their schools and in the lives of their students.

The importance of teachers and mentors that not only care about their students’ tangible success but success in the sense of fostering a safe place and space for expression and artistic development with themselves is something that’s always stuck with Macklemore:

“I still remember being a kid and specific art teachers that shaped the person that I am today … if I’m keeping it a hundo, I was writing graffiti in school along with a lot of other kids … they were trying to get us to cut down on writing graffiti, so [my teacher] got us spray paint and we were able to paint tables in the school. And you know, it was just one of those cool moments where the principal was trying to suspend us, or kick us out of school and a teacher intervened and said ‘You know what, these kids are obviously looking for some way to express themselves, let’s give them an outlet’ and that was a really cool opportunity and one that’s always stuck with me.”

And though graffiti and other artistic mediums will always be a part of Macklemore’s life, it’s no secret that his true love has always been music — a fundamental element of his world today and something that has always been a transformative outlet in the rapper’s life from an early age:

“As a kid, music saved me. It was really the foundation for who I was. I was an okay student — decent at best — but the creative arts were really where I flourished and where I really found myself, found out my purpose and who I was — they were everything.”

The fact of the matter is quite simple — lack of funding means lack of art programs in schools during one's most formative years, and the potential long-term consequences of that could be devastating for not only individuals, but for our society at large:

“Art gives people a voice. It’s a weapon of resistance. And right now, I think one of the things that i’m the most fearful of and scared of (and something that we want to prioritize with this campaign) is that budgets [for the arts] are getting cut or are nonexistent at all. We believe that schools are the foundation for creativity — that’s one of the reasons why we want to put that focus on bringing arts back to schools and giving kids that experience …. a lot of kids can’t afford to go out and pay for a private piano teacher or private art lessons after school, the only real arts education that they have is in school. If we’re cutting those programs and not putting emphasis on the importance of those, then we’re going too see a drastic shift in culture.”

Because for so many people (like Macklemore), the art that they create and fall in love with becomes a crucial part of their identity, whether they choose to practice that art as a career in a professional capacity or not:

“From an early age, I realized that if I wanted to make it and participate in my craft, I had to do it for the love. It wasn’t at the beginning (and really the entire time) about making money or profiting financially. It wasn’t about fame or celebrity, it was about the fact that I loved art and that’s what gave me my identity. That was my self-expression.

And I think if you’re an artist, there’s a level of commitment and perseverance and dedication to the craft that comes with it. It’s not something that you can just do on the weekends, it’s not something that intermittently in your life you can tap into and tap out of. You have to be committed to it everyday, and that comes with sacrifice. And even in high school, when I really got serious about [music], other kids were partying, other kids were going out (as was I) but that was kind of the foundational years of me really honing in on my craft and realizing that if I wanted to get good, I had to be in the studio. I had to sacrifice time away to just focus on getting better. It taught me discipline, it taught me how to get over fear, how to find out who I am regardless of how other people perceive me. It’s been an infinite teacher from those formative years until now.”

To Macklemore the importance of art and music in his own life is unquestionable — and it’s been through this realization and understanding that the songwriter has found it imperative to advocate for artisticic expression amongst our youth across all mediums:

“I’ve equated art to oxygen … it is something that we all need whether we know it or not. It nourishes the soul, the spirit … it’s been very much the core of my existence here on earth. It’s how I relate to other human beings, it’s what keeps me alive, it really does.

I think we live in a time where we have an overabundance of social media and ways to compare ourselves to other people. And that can be very discouraging — ‘Look at this artist, they’re so much better than me. Look at this person, they have so many more followers’ — We have these immediate metrics of how to compare ourselves to others. Don’t pay attention to the metrics, don’t pay attention to social media, get good at art because you love art, not because you think this is going to be the next big paycheck or because you want fame. Do it because you love it. Do it because it is your water, do it because it is your oxygen, do it because you can’t live without it. And then the results will be what they are, but you will find yourself through that passion. Don’t get caught up in the fear — we all face fear, it’s a natural part of the creative process, but thats also part of working through it. That’s what art does. We push ourselves, we feel those barriers, we feel those boundaries and we keep creating regardless of outcome, because the process is what it really is about.”

Though we can’t all magically outsource funding and ensure every school in America is outfitted with a strong and successful arts program, there are ways we can start making a difference today — especially in the lives of those educators and school programs that we feel are most deserving.

From March 7 to April 8, Instagram users (on a public profile) can upload a photo of a space in their local high school that they feel is deserving of and need of some artistic love with the hashtags #BringArtBacktoSchoolsContest and #LIFEWTR, along with the name and city of the school being nominated.